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Society of Women Engineers

Study Provides Insights on Solar Industry Workforce Diversity

Solar industry improves recruitment of women but still lags in equal wages and positions for people of color.

Published On: September 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 10, 2017 — New research released today by The Solar Foundation in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Women’s Empowerment Committee reveals that the 260,000-worker-strong U.S. solar energy workforce is more diverse than similar American industries, but still needs to make progress in order to ensure fairness and equality for its employees. The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study provides statistically significant evidence for what has long been casually observed, proving that women and people of color face significant hurdles to accessing the equal pay and senior positions of their white male counterparts, with women of color being affected the most.

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study is the first comprehensive study on diversity of the U.S. solar energy industry. Findings show that racial diversity within the industry has remained relatively stagnant over recent years, and that all people of color, particularly women, are at risk of being left behind as the solar workforce continues its rapid growth trajectory. Of the major findings, only 8% of African American respondents reported that they have successfully moved up the career ladder, and 50% think they have not been successful in moving up in their careers and feel “stuck” in their current positions. Meanwhile, all women and people of color are less likely to earn top-tier wages than their white male peers.

Among other findings, just over a quarter of solar employers formally track employee demographics and diversity and just over 1 in 10 companies (11.5%) has implemented a strategy to increase the representation of veterans at their firms. Meanwhile, 14% of companies have a strategy in place to increase female workforce representation, and 7% have a strategy in place to increase representation of non-white communities.

“Companies reflect the communities they serve, and a diverse workforce helps them expand their consumer base as they make solar power accessible to more people. But as these findings show, the industry has a lot of work to do to ensure the solar workforce is as diverse as the rest of America,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “The solar industry should commit to building a culture of diversity and inclusivity where all individuals, regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation or background, feel valued and appreciated, and receive equal opportunities for career advancement.”

The 2017 U.S. Solar Workforce Diversity Study underscores the importance of diversity for employee well-being, strength of the workforce, and a company’s bottom line. The report also identifies a broad set of recommendations that solar companies can adopt to improve diversity. The action steps for solar companies include creating company-wide diversity pledges, establishing a formal diversity tracking and measurement tool, broadening recruitment efforts, implementing a “blind” job application process, and establishing diversity training programs.

“Having an industry that reflects the diversity of the American public is of utmost importance to me and my organization,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “We believe that a diverse workforce creates a more resilient organization that supports a strong, successful, and equitable solar industry.”

“Just like having a diverse portfolio of energy resources is critical to our nation, so is having a diverse workforce,” said Julia Hamm, Smart Electric Power Alliance President and CEO. “The path towards a clean energy future can be best met when the industry reflects all of the customers it serves. The Solar Foundation’s Solar Industry Diversity Study provides a baseline, and now it’s on the rest of us to attract and retain the best possible ideas and talent by seeking out women and minorities for employment and advancement throughout our organizations.”

“At SunLink we’ve benefitted from having a diverse, culturally-rich workforce that has enabled us to effectively address our customers’ toughest solar challenges with creative, innovative solutions,” said Michael Maulick, President and CEO of SunLink. “I credit that to the strong leadership shown by my executive team–half of which are women–who are quickly becoming the next generation of leaders in the solar business.”

“We know from decades of research that diversity is strongly correlated with financial performance across businesses. In the face of tremendous workforce growth, it is critical to create a solar culture that welcomes, encourages, and advances equity and inclusion. The opportunity cost is too great,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of WRISE: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy. “We need as many diverse ideas, minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and talents as we can get at all levels across the industry. This study has shown clearly that we are falling short, especially with women of color. Now that we have this important starting point, we can and must do better.”

“With solar growing at a rapid pace, the industry has an incredible opportunity to lead the way in shaping an ever-expanding workforce that is as diverse and inclusive as its customers around the globe,” said SunPower’s Executive Vice President for Administration, Doug Richards. “We know there is work to do and that it has to happen now. At SunPower, for example, we have an aggressive grassroots effort with our employees leading various diversity and inclusion initiatives, that also has helped to address attrition, growth opportunities, and recruitment.”

“At Sunrun, we embrace the diversity of every employee,” said Jessica Booker, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Sunrun. “We understand that our differences—our human experiences—make us stronger as a company. The power of diversity fuels ideation and innovation in our mission to create a planet run by the sun. Inclusion is what brings us all together as one to accomplish this goal.”

The 2017 U.S. Solar Workforce Diversity Study is the first comprehensive research on diversity in the U.S. solar energy industry. Including data and analysis gathered from surveys and interviews with employers and employees, the study establishes a baseline for tracking trends and changes year-over-year.

The Solar Foundation will further dive into the findings of this report and outline some suggested solutions at SEIA & Oregon SEIA’s Women’s Empowerment West Coast Summit on Oct. 11. Register here.

Download the full report and see a full list of report sponsors at http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/diversity.

About The Solar Foundation®

The Solar Foundation® is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate adoption of the world’s most abundant energy source. Through its leadership, research, and capacity building, the Foundation creates transformative solutions to achieve a prosperous future in which solar technology is integrated into all aspects of our lives. The Solar Foundation is considered the premier research organization on the solar labor workforce, employer trends, and the economic impacts of solar. It has provided expert advice to leading organizations such as the National Academies, the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. Department of Energy, and others during a time of dynamic industry growth and policy and economic uncertainty. While The Solar Foundation recognizes that solar energy is a key part of our energy future, it is committed to excellence in its aim to help people fairly and objectively gauge the value and importance of solar and solar compatible technologies. Learn more at TheSolarFoundation.org.

About the SEIA Women’s Empowerment Committee

The Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) Women’s Empowerment Committee (WEC) is made up of 60+ industry leaders, both men and women. WEC is committed to education, to the advancement of careers for women in the solar industry, to mentoring future solar leaders, and to establishing opportunities for women.

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